Pompeii Passions

by ColumbusGuy

Chapter 2

Philandros Sets Off!

Thoughts whirled in and out of Philandros' head for the rest of that day, and indeed, every day for months thereafter as events will relate. As he passed his grandfather's study late in the evening, he almost went in...but was stopped by his own sense of pride and confusion, were he to be completely honest with himself. Seeing the stern old man sitting at his work table, staring blankly at the papers piled before him - eyes glistening with unshed tears Philandros thought - was the final reason he could not bring himself to enter.

He skipped breakfast next morning, having tossed restlessly the entire night, and when he dressed himself about the fourth hour, he did so with the same care, but without the usual enthusiasm. The eyes which stared out at him from his mirror were reddish and gritty from lack of sleep, and his accustomed care-free smile was gone. When he went to the kitchens for a snack, he learned that his mother was visiting friends nearby, and his grandfather was off looking at the horses. For some time, Philandros wandered about the villa, taking in the familiar sights likely for the last time....

Of their own accord, he found his feet had carried him to the paddock where the horses were exercised - the place where his grandfather could normally be found when the weather was good. Before he was even aware of his actions, he had plucked a long piece of grass and was running it through his hands as he took a position at the fence a few feet from his grandfather. Solon looked at his grandson quickly, then his face composed itself in its normal lines.

Philandros looked at the balding man, becoming angry at the automatic shutting out which his appearance always seemed to bring on. He let out a small sigh, and started to turn away when he recalled his mother's words of the previous day. What do I say to this man...he never listens to me; no matter what, will he even believe me? He paused, hoping that the man would say something, but no words came. μὰ τὸν Ποσειδῶ!i If I don't say something now - I never will!

"Grandfather..." he swallowed hard, and went on before he lost his nerve. "I...please listen..." His voice trailed off as Solon looked at him, and his eyes filled with tears. The old man stopped his instinctive rebuke before it was made, seeing the genuine distress in the boy's expression, and hearing the despair in his voice. He did love the boy...and something seemed to have changed during the night. If he hoped to beg for more money....

"If you think to ask for more money...no - not until I see some improvement in your ways..." he was puzzled when his grandson shook his head fiercely! "If it's not that...?"

His voice faltering, he managed to get the words out in spurts before he could be interrupted, and perhaps lose what courage he had managed to gather. "Sir...mother and I talked...of many things...I...understand...Timon...Gallus and I - sir! - I'm not Timon!"

Solon stood there as if stricken by Jupiter's fabled thunderbolt! Eudora had talked of...that!? He had not told her of his thoughts or what he had seen that day...but she had always been the brightest of his daughters...he should have known that she would guess - especially with the way slaves tended to chatter amongst themselves!

"I saw what I saw...do you deny that?" his voice was cold, accusing.

Philandros swallowed, throat suddenly dry. "Sir...you did - it truly was the first time...the other few times were just idle touches - did not you yourself do such things at that age?"

Solon was about to snap out an automatic condemnation and denial...but he saw something in his grandson's face which forestalled him. "You have never lied to me, so far as I know...and I cannot lie to you now: it never went as far as what I saw between the two of you that afternoon!"

Silence passed between them for some time before the young man spoke again. "Grandfather, I was young - I haven't done it since - will you condemn me for one offense? I can only say this: I don't know if I like girls - I've never tried - but I've not done it with another boy either!

"I know I've been a disappointment in many ways, sir...but I swear by all the gods and our family honor - I will do my best to change that! I will see what becomes of me in Pompeii...and I hope that I will make you, and my mother proud of me!"

Solon looked at his grandson for a long time, seeing him perhaps for the first time in several years; the fancy clothes - other boys his age wore similar...and worse! The arrogant haughtiness was - if he would only admit it - almost exactly what his own father had berated him for constantly. He grudgingly admitted that, without his blindness, the boy was actually not such a bad sort...extravagant at times, yes...but he had always been honest and thoughtful of others - could a man ask for much more in a boy of eighteen?

He looked down...only a matter of an inch or two now...and when he spoke, his voice was hoarse and faint: "That is all I ask of you, son - that you try...."

Philandros looked at the stalk of grass in his hands, twisted and broken now into countless pieces, and said one more thing before looking up again: "In truth, I cannot say that I will give up boys - but I will also try girls - and I swear this also: our family will not end with me...one way or another you will see great-grandchildren!"

Solon laid a hand on the boy's head, tilting it slightly so he could look into his green eyes. When he did so, he saw the boy no longer, but the look of a man...at least the beginnings of one. He mouthed the word 'Try', and put his arm about his grandson, pulling him close for a moment before they walked back to the villa for lunch.

"You know...that house in Pompeii is supposed to be nice...but it's been empty for years with only a caretaker - perhaps I can lend you enough to make sure it's ready?"

Philandros' head jerked around. "No! I meant what I said - I will do my best to live within my means!" He mellowed his tone just a bit before finishing. "...but if I could have - temporarily - one or two servants to help get started...."

When Eudora Callias returned from visiting Caecilia Lepida in Misenum, she was disturbed by the silence - her father and son still not speaking? Then she heard raised voices from the tablinum - oh yes! Speaking - and arguing! She was determined that this would stop....and burst through the door of the office ready to speak her mind - and stopped as she took in the scene before her: both men, huddled over papers and codices scattered on the table - her father insisting, Philon refusing just as ardently.

"All right! You win, sir - I will accept a proper latrine, and the use of your copper tub for bathing - but no way will I accept a private bath...not until I can afford it myself!" Decoration!?...

Eudora cleared her throat quietly suppressing an incipient laugh. "If you boys are done...dinner is ready!" She turned and walked out, leaving the two to stare after her.

By the end of the week, Philandros was to take a cart-load of 'essentials' - a bathing tub, table ware and kitchen ware, clothing and bedding, and some basic foodstuffs. Also, two slaves, Tellus and Corinna...both older family servants - Tellus to see that things ran well, and Corinna to see that the 'boy' didn't starve or try to cook his own meals.

"Grandfather, the caretaker must be living on something !" Philandros had objected...and Solon's reply ended the matter: "Yes...dining out! Or living on tavern food - you'll save money having your own cook...I'll hear no more on it!"

On the day for departure, Philandros shared a breakfast of fruit and semolina with his mother and grandfather; Eudora ate very little, merely stirring the bowl's contents with her spoon, her father eating heartily. For himself, Philon ate very little out of sheer nervousness. Conversation was listless and desultory...mother trying to avoid speaking of his leaving, and Solon had given up trying to persuade his grandson to take more things for the house.

When at last Philandros stood, his mother rose quickly, and hugged him to her with an iron embrace, weeping quietly. Solon looked on uneasily, ill at ease with such displays of emotion on his daughter's part. In the end, he pried her arms from Philon's shoulders, and held her by his side. "He's only going to the next town, Eudora...not into the legions!"

Eudora stifled her sobs, and gave a small smile: "Dearest...if you need anything - you come right back! Watch out for thieves and pickpockets..." she almost added 'and tavern wenches'...then thought better of it.

Before the villa's door stood the carpentum, balanced on its two wheels and pulled by a dark grey mule. In the seat sat Tellus and Corinna, who waved to the master with assurances of 'looking after the boy' and 'seeing that he eats'. Philandros was surprised to see his grandfather's favorite riding horse...a white and brown gelding named Bucephalus.

"Nonsense, boy! He'll serve well, is bright...and truth be told...a bit much for me this past year. He'll be happier with a younger owner who likes jumping and going hell-bent cross country!"

Philandros took his grandfather's hands in a firm clasp, and quietly said: "Thank you, sir." He walked over to his new horse, anxious to ride him, and waved before mounting.

The boy set off briskly, stopping at the gate by the road to Herculaneum, and Pompeii beyond it, to wave one last time. Behind him, the cart was making slower progress, with its passengers and load of household chattel. Philon called out: "Goodbye mama, grandfather!"

Eudora called out, drying her eyes: "ἴθι εὐτθχής,ii Philon!" At her side, voice slightly hoarse Solon called: "Try, son!"

Eudora looked at her father with a confused look, and a slight frown. "Try what , father?"

Solon looked down at her with an enigmatic grin. "Oh...nothing!"

i μὰ τὸν Ποσειδῶ - Ma ton Poseidou! - By Poseidon! Greek god of horses. An apt exclamation for a family of horse-breeders.

ii ἴθι εὐτθχής - ithi eutukhes - Good Luck!

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